1519: Portuguese explorer Ferdinand Magellan, having sworn allegiance to Spain, sets sail from Seville for what will be the first successful circumnavigation of the Earth. Magellan, however, will not complete the voyage.
Like Columbus before him, Magellan’s primary objective was to open up a western trade route for Spain to Asia, since Spanish ships were barred by treaty with Portugal from using the route around Africa. Columbus’ discovery of a new continent presented Magellan with the additional challenge of finding a passage through the new world to the Southeast Asian kingdoms, then referred to as the Spice Islands.
After crossing the Atlantic Ocean and coming to the coast of modern-day Brazil, Magellan and his squadron of five ships turned south. Surviving a mutiny and the wreck of one ship, Magellan sailed the length of South America until finding a deep-water strait near the tip of the continent — the strait that now bears his name.
He lost another ship, which defected and returned to Spain, but passed through the 373-mile-long strait to become the first European to enter the Pacific Ocean from the east. Magellan himself christened it the Pacific Ocean (“Mar Pacifico“) because of its relative placidness compared to the stormy Atlantic.
But it wasn’t placid for long. After re-crossing the equator and dropping anchor at the Marianas Islands and Guam, Magellan became the first European to make landfall in the Archipelago of San Lazaro, now the Philippine Islands. That was the end of the line for Magellan. After befriending the tribal chieftan of Cebu, Magellan joined forces with him in an attempt to subdue the natives on the neighboring island of Mactan. They objected, and Magellan was killed by poisoned arrows on April 27, 1521.
What remained of the squadron continued on to the Spice Islands, then headed home across the Indian Ocean and around the Cape of Good Hope. Of the 270 men who set sail with Magellan, only 18 actually completed the circumnavigation by returning to Spain. They reached Seville on Sept. 8, 1522 aboard the ship Victoria.